Thursday, November 4, 2010


It is with great pride and more than a little satisfaction (not to mention relief) that I officially announce the "latest edition to my family," Metropolitan Home DESIGN 100: THE LAST WORD IN MODERN INTERIORS (Filipacchi Publishing), which came into the world on October 13, 2010, weighing 2.8 pounds (according to It is just over eleven inches long—small for a baby, but about average for a design book, coffee tables being what they are.

People who know me are doubtlessly sick of hearing about this book, but—oddly enough—not everyone knows me, and I think it only fair to offer the rest of you the opportunity to peek inside this (my third) book for Filipacchi, the book publishing arm of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., the parent company of the late lamented Metropolitan Home magazine (my employer of some 18 years), which ceased publication in November of 2009.

As fans of Met Home know, the magazine ran an annual "Design 100" issue, which was a look at the best in the world of design, from public buildings and private homes to hotels, furnishings, accessories, ideas, and creative individuals. The DESIGN 100 book takes up this tradition with 100 of the best residences that have either appeared in the publication or that were photographed but never had a chance to run. Among the latter are this New York City apartment by designer, entrepreneur, and most humble potter, Jonathan Adler (photograph by Joshua McHugh).

The Adler project is No. 2 in the book, and the citation reads: "Most Singular Penthouse on the Upper West Side" (that's in Manhattan, in case you aren't familiar with the neighborhoods on our fair isle). The text reads, in part: "When a forward-thinking young couple bought this penthouse, they called in design guru Jonathan Adler to create a comfortable and playfully glamorous home. Aiming for 'hotel-ish opulence and squishiness,' Adler tried to make the new place look as though it had been around for a while, 'but not in a traditional way.'" Most of the furniture is custom, but the towering lamps are vintage. The decorative tiles on the far left entry wall are glazed in (what else?) platinum. For more Jonathan Adler designs, follow the link to his web site.

Here's the bedroom from the same apartment (that fabulous black-and-white hassock is by Madeline Weinrib for ABC Home):

The entries in DESIGN 100, by the way, are not presented in a hierarchy of "bestness," so No. 1 isn't "best-er" than No. 66. The order, in fact, was determined by the book's designer, Keith D'Mello, and his colleague, Jeffrey Felmus.

The 100 homes in DESIGN 100 are located in 26 states as well as in Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. They include reality-based, accessible homes as well as places like Gianni Verace's fabled beach house in Florida, Madonna's "Hollywood Glamour" bedroom in New York City, Betsey Johnson's color-saturated SoHo living room, and Vidal Sassoon's midcentury rambler in Beverly Hills. Among the designers whose names you may recognize are Barbara Barry, Diamond Baratta, Darryl Carter, Jamie Drake, Christian Duc, Kelly Hoppen, Kara Mann, Todd Oldham, Karim Rashid, Michael Smith, Kelly Wearstler, and Vicente Wolf.

Here's a little montage of photography included in DESIGN 100 from the Introduction to the book:

Top row, from left: No. 65, Dale Chihuly's studio in Seattle (photo by John Granen); No. 92, a restored Joseph Eichler home in Marin County (photo by Shaun Sullivan); No. 69, a stunning William J. Reese house in the Hamptons (photo by Antoine Bootz). Middle row, from left: No. 97, an Aspen, Colorado, home by Hugh Newell Jacobsen (photo by John Granen); No. 48, a home on the Baja Peninsula by Marsha Maytum of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (photo by Luis Gordoa); No. 56, a kitchen addition in Litchfield, Connecticut (photo by Tim Street-Porter). Bottom row, from left: No. 12, designer Doug Meyer's 1941 home in Miami, Florida (photo by Mark Roskams); No. 28 a timely kitchen designed by Glenn Heim in Miami (photo by Quentin Bacon); and finally...

That attention-grabbing orange shot in the lower right-hand corner (by John Reed Forsman) is No. 7, the "Brightest Idea for a Boys' Bath," from a vacation home by architects Min|Day (that's E.B. Min and Jeffrey Day), whose offices are in San Francisco and Omaha (the lakefront property is on the Iowa/Minnesota border). The clients' three sons share the bathroom, but there's no fighting over sinks, since there's one for each of them. Min and Day are fabulous architects, so although this is the only picture of the place in the book, I thought I'd let you see a few other shots of the house from the Min|Day web site (photos by Paul Crosby). I have to say I love the way the house cantilevers over the sloped grade to the water.

Color is great, but white is still madly popular for interiors. White paint outsells any other shade, tone, or hue by a huge margin. But there are all kinds of white interiors, and there are a variety in DESIGN 100. For starters, there's one of my favorites, No. 33, the ultimate white-on-white Miami home, designed by Toby Zack (photo by Carlos Domenech):

Have a good sense of humor? Designer Marjorie Skouras has. She brought a whole new meaning to "bringing the outside in" with No. 45, a master bedroom in—where else?—Los Angeles (photo by John Ellis).

There are restorations of homes in DESIGN 100 by such famous architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, but one of my favorites is a home designed in Maui by the late great Italian modernist Ettore Sottsass with Johanna Grawunder. Not only do I love the design of entry No. 23, but I got to go to Hawaii to write the story. And who parceled out the writing assignments at Met Home, you may ask? Oh, it was me. What a coincidence! (The photo is by Grey Crawford who also found the assignment terribly inconvenient.)

And since we're on the subject of celebrity designers, have a gander at No. 95, the "Best Master Bath in Britain" (photo by David Garcia). This is the 30-by-30-foot spa retreat of no lesser design royalty that Sir Terence Conran in his Berkshire country home.

Okay, I'm almost done.

No. 34 is a wilderness compound in Colorado by architect Ron Mason (photo by Frank Ooms). It consists of a number of individual pavilions which, taken together, make up the entire house. This is the most recent building:

From the rustic we go to the ultimately refined with this Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz Manhattan apartment, No. 39 (photo by Antoine Bootz). Benjamin was called in by the client to refresh the place after a fire in a neighboring apartment caused some damage. It was originally designed by his mentor (and former employer), John Saladino.

Choosing the photos that went into DESIGN 100 and writing the texts was a real labor of love. It was fun and exciting, but bittersweet in the wake of Met Home's demise. Along with the rest of the magazine's staff, I wanted to offer our faithful fans an appropriate farewell—a bread-and-butter gift, if you will, from a grateful house guest—but the collection needed to be more than just a valediction, so DESIGN 100 was conceived as a working sourcebook of great ideas for home design, even for people who have never read an issue. We hope it will inspire creativity in fashioning personalized living spaces you can live in and love.

For now, for one parting shot, we meander to Williamsburg, one of the trendier sections of the Borough of Brooklyn (my very first home town), to see No. 94, a collaboration between the owners, designer Christopher Coleman and his partner, fashion designer Angel Sanchez (photo by Annie Schlechter). This kitchen shot, with its colorful custom-designed wallpaper, happens also to appear on the back cover of the book, which seems to be an appropriate place to say adios—for now. —Michael Lassell


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"INTERNATIONAL," The Film, Not the Style.

Well, here it is, the summer of 2010, which means I'm just getting caught up on cable with movies from 2009, so this may be Old News, but I had fun.

The man in the photo, in case you don't know, is the British actor Clive Owen, star of last year's The International, a globe-hopping thriller directed by Tom Tykwer. Clive plays an Interpol agent with his teeth into a banking scheme to profit from world-wide terrorism by controlling the debt associated with large-scale weapons sales (the film, alas, is inspired by a true story). The International got mixed reviews, but I say any movie with Clive Owen in it is worth seeing, possibly twice, especially a movie that also features so much great architecture.

Now, I am the person who sits quietly watching a film and then suddenly gasps, as if shot by a poison dart, "Oh my God." If a companion should happen to ask, "What's wrong?" I have to answer, shamefacedly or even unapologetically, "Nothing, but there must be a hundred thousand dollars worth of Fortuny lamps on that set." Movies to me are not about design, but many a mediocre movie has been enhanced by great art direction.

The International opens (on a closeup of Clive in the rain) outside the Berlin Hauptbahnhof—that's the main train station. And here it is:

It is not the only modernist assemblage we will visit on our fictional journey to real places. There is, for example, the General Secretariat of Interpol in Lyon, France:

But the real modernist marvel of the film is Volkswagen's Autostadt, a visitor facility for automotive enthusiasts adjacent to the VW plant in Wolfsburg. It's the work of several architects and consists of a number of pavilions, including a central hall with the largest glass doors to be found anywhere on the planet. It's used in the film as the headquarters for the bad bank. Happily for lovers of modern architecture, this is not a film where only the villains are associated with modernism, a very peculiar quirk in the collective consciousness of filmmakers worldwide. There are villains everywhere in this film, in buildings of all kinds.

There's some nice historic architecture in the film, too, notably the Piazza Cordusio in Milan, as well as that city's wedding-cake train station in the Piazza Duca d'Aosta and the adjacent beaux art hotel (currently Le Meridien). Here's the Milan Central Station:

There is even a brief encounter in the famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II:

Film makers invariably take advantage of the way in which a city is defined by its architecture by framing their establishing shots to include signature buildings. Having dropped a few bodies in Milan, however, The International is finished with Europe and moves on.... to New York CIty—you can't have a thriller without it, apparently. And where better to stage an epic gun battle than in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, that iconic inverted beehive of Frank Lloyd Wright's. 

Now, the first Guggenheim turned 50 years old in 2009, which was fairly frightening to me since I not only remember visiting in its early days, but I remember them building the place. And here is a sketch by the master himself:

Before my first visit, a school trip, I had learned that the interior was deployed around a continuous spiral, so I arrived with a handful of marbles and let them loose at the top, assuming they would roll all the way to the ground floor. My experiment was a dismal failure. The marbles rolled only as far as the elevator on the floor below, thanks to centrifugal force, about which I was then as sadly ill-informed as I was about museum etiquette. (You will remember this anecdote while watching The International vis-a-vis a wheelchair.)

Now, I don't want to give away too much plot, but suffice it to say that there is a gun fight in the Guggenheim that does a great deal of damage to the building, or at least seems to. Oddly the caretakers of the actual museum weren't too keen on automatic weapons going off inside the place, so they agreed to let the crew shoot there for one day only—with no explosive special effects. And here is the crew shooting in the actual (first) Guggenheim, the one on Fifth Avenue:

Meanwhile, back in the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin, a nearly full-scale replica of the interior of the Guggenheim was constructed (it's 98 percent the actual size). Here is the set during production:

The art you see in the set is by German video artist Julian Rosefeldt (b. 1965), who studied architecture in Barcelona and now teaches at the Bauhaus-University Weimar. Among the images you can see in the film are several from his 2001/2002 series, Asylum, which is a nine-screen projection of mesmerizing, slow-motion images. And here's a still from one of the video tracks:

To wrap up this sequence, here's a still of Clive in The International with Jack McGee as NYPD Det. Bernie Ward. (This is the Guggenheim set; you can see a Rosefeldt image behind the actors.)

But dust off your passports, we're on our way to Istanbul, where we'll visit the subterranean Basilica Cistern and the Suleymaniye mosque before paying a visit to the Grand Bazaar, the world's largest covered market, and another site where I have dutifully left behind a wad of tourist cash. Here's a terrific photo of the interior of the bazaar by British travel photographer Darrell Godliman (whose work can be viewed, and purchased, at

And I will be forever grateful to director Tom Tykwer for a chance to get up on the roof of the bazaar, someplace I have, alas, never been, but it's faboo. Here's an aerial shot:

And here's a shot from the film, with our anti-hero in hot pursuit of the villain:

I have to say this is my favorite film set (at least partly) in Istanbul since Topkapi, and I can't wait to get back.

So, how would I rate The International overall? On a scale of one to five, I'll give it a grudging 3.5. It held my interest, but at least two of those points are for the art direction and cinematography. The acting was about what you'd expect. Naomi Watts is in it, but she didn't add much. The script needed some help. Still... an enjoyable way to spend a hot afternoon in New York City. And I did watch it twice.—ML

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Well, it's now officially summertime, and the living is… suddenly sultry, requiring large quantities of icy beverages to slake our significant thrist. Back in the days when we boomers were babies, imbibing in the sizzle season frequently involved anodized aluminum tumblers in a rainbow of colors, like the vintage items pictured at left (the image has been, um, borrowed from a gentleman known as weshallmeetonthebeutifulshore, who publishes a lot of festive photos on Flickr).

So in honor of Gay Pride Month, I decided to scout the Web for attractive means of raising a toast to the season while lowering one’s body temperature.

If you’re planning to serve margaritas for your Gay Day brunch, consider these nearly indestructible "glasses" from DuraClear at Williams-Sonoma. Made of tough polycarbonate in New Zealand, a multicolored set of six costs $49.95 (although you can find them for less if you scout around).

Or consider these updated Club martini glasses from Sagaform in Sweden, a forward-looking fun company. The  were designed by Matz Borgström, and—considering they’re hand blown—are a real bargain at $29.95 for a set of four, although they are not dishwasher safe. They come in other festive shapes, too, which include a dedicated schnapps glass. Can something be so wholesome-looking and yet decadent at the same time? You know the answer.

Speaking of fun, offer your guests their potable of choice in one of these 7-ounce Wobbles by Monica Lubkowska Jonas (2007). Unlike most glasses, they don’t have flat bottoms, so they roll around a bit on the table, making your guests wonder, perhaps, if they’ve had one sidecar too many. They're glass, made in Poland, and come in sets of four, either cool colors (top) or warm colors (bottom); $40 per set at the MoMA store.

Also at the MoMA store are these now-classic jewel-toned Curved glasses by Leonardo (1997). They’re not only rainbow-colored, but they have an arc in their architecture. Made in Turkey, they come in 8-ounce and 12-ounce sizes, in sets of six for $70 each.

Another reconsideration of traditional shapes comes in the form of refined Murano glass: These square-ish highball glasses are hand blown by the master craftsmen of Nason Moretti in Venice. We’re clearly moving up-market with these beauties: They cost $420 for a set of six, highball or old fashioned size, at the famed Gearys of Beverly Hills (someplace I have actually worked).

Speaking of Murano glass, Michael C. Fina offers these Gino Cenedese e Figlio Etched highball glasses (lowballs also available), for $202.50 per glass. They are part of the Battuti collection, which includes the giraffe-like patterned version shown as well as entirely clear or entirely etched versions (see Whatever you do, don’t smash one into the fireplace in a moment of unbridled enthusiasm. You can play Zorba the Greek with the Crate & Barrel barware.

Also from Europe, from the Czech Republic, to be precise, come these quirky yet highly refined Bohemian crystal Tipsy glasses from Moser, designed by Jirí Rydlo in 2002. They come in many shapes and variations; the frosted double old fashioneds pictured are $160 each, or $985 in sets of six.

You can hold on to your rainbow even if you’ve been sweating over a hot steam/induction oven to prepare a fully formal sit-down dinner, thanks to the cristalleries of France. Note, for example, these water goblets from Saint Louis Crystal, founded in 1586; approx. $190/stem through Michael C. Fina.

Michael C. Fina will also be happy to sell you some of these extraordinary hock glasses from Saint Louis at $240 each.

Last but not least in the realm of luxury rainbow glassware are these towering Flutissimo from Baccarat's Vega collection of full-lead crystal, hand-crafted stems; $225 each through Neiman Marcus.

To bring things back to the attractive but realistically affordable, consider some ice tea, a gin and T, or a Tom Collins in one of these flirty Rainbow tall glasses by Leonardo; 10 ounces, only £3.60 or approx. $5.50 each from Made in Design in the U.K.

So whether you’re spending the summer lounging beside the pool, sur la plage, on deck, in the woods, alfresco, under the trellis of a garden gazebo, from a penthouse terrace, or overlooking the grounds of a country home here or abroad, you can, keep your rainbow connection alive. After all, in the words of Kermit the Frog, “Rainbows have nothing to hide.”—ML

Friday, May 21, 2010


Once upon a time, when I was two, Philip Johnson was finishing up his now world-famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. And here it is:

I remember, quite specifically—at what must have been a very young age—seeing black and white photographs of this house in Life magazine. And what I remember thinking is: "Yikes, that's a lot of exposure," or whatever the kid equivalent of that expression might have been in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s.

I would like to say that the Glass House inspired me right then and there to become an architect, and maybe it did, although I did not turn out to be an architect. I started down that path, but I diverged and time marched relentlessly forward. I forgot about glass houses until I moved from my native East Coast to Los Angeles and found out what mid-century California modernism was about: Neutra and Schindler and Eames—oh, my! Here, for example, is Richard Neutra's 1947 Kaufmann House in Palm Springs (built for the same clearly visionary man who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water): 

Living on the Left Coast, I found that indoor/outdoor architecture was having its way with my core beliefs. I began to covet my neighbors' house. I lusted after a home that steamrollered the lines of demarcation between the interior and exterior. (This is not the same thing as "having no boundaries," which was an issue in therapy, but that is not for this time and place).

Here is another lovely domicile, the world famous Stahl House by Pierre Koenig:

If any single building of the Case Study period deserves the term "iconic," the Stahl House is it (thanks largely to photographer Julius Shulman).

A friend of mine, the late Bruce Eicher, lived in a John Lautner house that had an outdoor swimming pool that slid under a glass wall into the living room. The main, elevated seating area, facing the view, had a wall on wheels that could be rolled out of the way for greater access to the out-of-doors.

One of the more interesting things about living in L.A. is that the houses have inspired so many later, still practicing architects. Some of the best of the West have not only assimilated the lessons of their predecessors but have been called upon to renovate and expand the houses themselves. Here, for example, is a 1948 Neutra house on the beach below the Santa Monica bluffs with an addition by an architect still very much in his prime, Steven Ehrlich

I love how the vaulted roof of the addition's outdoor dining room echoes the living room window bay. This house, by the way, has a pool enclosed by a wall that is retractable so that when you're sitting on the deck you look straight out onto the beach and the Pacific beyond. Nice. I want it. I'll take it. Sigh.

Here's a house Steven built from scratch up on a ridge near enough to the ocean to see it:

And just so you know he practices what he preaches, here is Mr. Ehrlich's own house in Venice (not the one in Italy):

The first time I saw this house, it was still under construction. Even then it was magical. 

Now, as much as I love Steven, I would have to consider a few other firms if I were building my dream house. Look, for example, at this shot of an Idaho home built by Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle (the first time I saw it my jaw just about dropped):

Partner Tom Kundig was the design principal on this little gem, but Jim Olson shares the aesthetic, even when working in a city setting, as in this Seattle loft:

And here's one of my favorite projects of theirs, a cabin in the woods (near Skykomish, Washington), where the walls open on hinges to let nature in:

This little "wooden tent on a platform," as the architects modestly call it, reminded me of another leafy location, the renovation by Marmol Radziner of architect Cliff May's "Experimental Ranch," which he built in a Los Angeles canyon as his own residence in 1952. (The photograph is by Joe Fletcher.)

This was a dream assignment for Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner, who established their firm in 1989 and have since mastered the art of making environments for a "transparent" life style no matter what the architectural idiom. 

Check out two views of their prototype prefab house in Desert Hot Springs. It's got 2,000 square feet of indoor living space with an additional 2,000 square feet of covered outdoor space among, amid, and between—oh, and views that go a lot farther than you'd want to walk. (Photographs by David Glomb.)

I could go on like this all day, so I think I will. The firm of Min|Day, conveniently located in both San Francisco and Omaha, created this lovely lake place:

I love how the end of the house cantilevers subtly over the grade, making the living room a floating vitrine. The firm is named after two architects, E.B. Min and Jeffrey Day, and I totally love the bathroom they did in this house for the family's three sons:

It just goes to show how much fun you can have while being absolutely modern and highly practical—and the window, cut to frame the tree and the view of the lake behind it, is an object lesson in the art of fenestration.

In closing, I'm just going to offer up a portfolio of images of a house in Palo Alto, California, by Bay Area architect Anne Fougeron. Beautiful, sophisticated, transparent, it's a winner on too many levels to list.

What can I say? More later!—ML